French archaeologists said Thursday they discovered the grave of a small child with what appears to be a pet dog dating to the Roman rule of the region about 2,000 years ago.
The researchers said they found the burial site during a dig at the Clermont-Ferrand Airport in central France. They believe the child was about a year old and buried with animal offerings along with the remains of the pet dog inside a coffin.
The coffin was found in a 6-by-3-foot grave. It was surrounded by 20 objects, including terra cotta vases, glass pots, half a pig, three hams and other pork cuts along with two headless chickens.
“The graves of young Gallo-Roman children are often located outside the community funeral home and sometimes even buried near the family home,” a statement from France’s National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research said. “These toddlers rarely benefit from the same funeral practices as their elders, who at that time were generally cremated.
“The furniture that accompanies the deceased of Aulnat is quite exceptional, both in terms of its quantity and quality. Such a profusion of dishes and butchery items, as well as the personal belongings that followed the child to his grave, underline the privileged rank to which his family belonged,” the institute said.
The discovery is part of a dig that covers 7.4 acres where numerous objects from the Iron Age to the Middle Ages have been found. Researchers are conducting tests of glassware and containers to learn what they might have held.
Death came early into David Kessler’s life. He was just 13 when his mother died, and her loss prompted his decision to forge a career working in palliative care. He went on to collaborate with psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a central figure in the field, who devised the five stages of grief. In lectures he would talk about his mother’s death and remind his audiences that no one is exempt from loss; and yet, he says today, in his heart he believed his personal experience of devastating grief was behind him, rather than ahead.
And then, four years ago, another tragedy hit his family. Kessler was totally floored by it. He discovered it was one thing knowing the landscape of mourning, and quite another travelling through it. But his journey, hard and long as it was, had an important by-product: he realised that the seminal Kübler-Ross inventory was not complete. To the five stages of grief she described, he was able, with the permission of the Kübler-Ross family, to add a sixth. And now, in the midst of the pandemic, he believes that the sixth stage will be as important in our universal experience of grieving as it is in individual lives hit by loss.
The tragedy in Kessler’s life came out of nowhere, as tragedies so often do. He was on a lecture tour when his son Richard, the eldest of two boys he had adopted in 2000, phoned to say his younger brother David, 21, had been found dead. As children they had a traumatic past life. Kessler says this had come back to haunt David and that he was using drugs at the time he died. In his book, Kessler describes feeling, on hearing of the loss of his son, as though he had fallen into the deepest part of the ocean. What’s more, he knew he would have to stay there for some time. He knew he would experience the stages outlined by Kübler-Ross – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – and he knew these would not necessarily be linear, that there was no “right” time frame and that he would oscillate between the different stages.
But what he hadn’t realised until he experienced it for himself was that there was a sixth stage. “I discovered there was something else, something beyond acceptance,” he tells me on a call from his home in Los Angeles. “It was finding meaning: the possibility of being able to discover something meaningful in my grief.”
He’s not saying, he stresses, that there was anything meaningful to be found in David’s death. “It’s not about finding meaning in the death – there is no meaning there. What it’s about is finding meaning in the dead person’s life, in how knowing them shaped us, maybe in how the way they died can help us to make the world safer for others.” Finding meaning, in other words, is something the bereaved can do after the death of someone they loved very much. It’s how those who are left can fold the existence of the lost individual into their lives, how they can allow it to change them, and how they can behave in response to it.
Much of what is experienced on an individual level in grief is echoed in what we’re collectively experiencing because of Covid, Kessler believes. “Many people say they are feeling a heavy sadness – and what they’re describing is grief,” he says. “We’re grieving the world we have lost: normal life, our routines, seeing our friends, going to work. Everything has changed. And change is actually grief – grief is a change we didn’t want.”
Just as with individual loss, at the moment the whole world is going through the stages Kübler-Ross documented. Some people are denying what’s happening; others are angry about it; some are trying to bargain; many are depressed; and eventually, there will have to be an acceptance of what we can never go back to. But also, there will have to be the sixth stage: a search for meaning – and indeed, the stages of grief aren’t chronological or linear, and we’ve been seeing signs of that search from the earliest days. But certainly when it’s over, says Kessler, we will need to find meaning in what we’ve been through. “We are going to say, what was the meaning? What post-traumatic growth can we take from this?” And, crucially, finding meaning is “the stage where the healing often resides”.
Kessler thinks Kübler-Ross, who died in 2004, would have agreed. The two of them met in 1995 and went on to collaborate on a book called On Grief and Grieving, in which they talked about how the stages of grieving were being misinterpreted. But as Kessler sees it now, it wasn’t until he experienced the loss of his son that he was able to finally get to the root of what they had grasped.
All of this matters, he says, because the global north is grief-illiterate. “The things I’m teaching are things people’s great-grandparents knew very well,” he says. “There are people today who think grieving takes three months, or even three weeks.” In the past, he says, you could mourn for as long as was needed – and in truth the fallout of grief never ends, it only changes. “But we live in a time when we’re told we should feel like this for this long, and then you’re done.”
One of the things we risk losing, in our grief-adverse society, is the personal growth it can enable. “We all talk about post-traumatic stress, but I’d say post-traumatic growth happens even more.” He believes we need to acknowledge that loss can have this spin-off and understand what it can do for us.
This makes perfect sense to me. I’ve often noticed, when I’ve interviewed people who have experienced bereavement, that they’re in a better place psychologically if they have taken what Kessler would describe as meaning from it, or when they’re upfront about how it’s changed them. And I know my own life has been radically changed, and achieved meaning, because of the loss of my sister when we were both children – I simply can’t imagine the other person I would have been without that experience.
Which brings us to another point: guilt. Because surely if we as bereaved people are gaining from loss, we will at some point feel guilty about it. Yet we should not, says Kessler, because we’d never have chosen to lose the individual we cherished. Their death is something we can’t change, but what we can change is how we live in the now, without them. We’d all give up, in a blink of an eye, the growth we’ve experienced if it would bring anyone back; but the point is, that’s the one thing we absolutely can’t do. And we have to remember, too, that the person who has gone would have wanted us to find meaning in our lives because of them. “My son was proud of what I did, and he’d be pleased that my work has found a new dimension because of him,” says Kessler.
The bottom line about grief, says Kessler, is this: there’s no wrong way to do it. Grieving is as individual as each of us; our grieving needs are different, in every case – and that seems to be true of how we’re coping with the grief of the pandemic, too. It’s also incredibly lonely: people who haven’t experienced grief before imagine that other family members will be able to help. But, in fact, when everyone is grieving it’s often not possible to reach out to one another, all you can do sometimes, as a grieving person, is survive.
One question he’s often asked, says Kessler, is which kind of loss is the worst. “People ask, is it worse to lose your child or your spouse? And I always say: the worst grief is yours.”
But if that’s the case, the positive message of Kessler’s book is that the best gain can also be yours. He tells me a story: he was speaking at a conference in a big hotel, and there were other conferences going on in the rooms around his. “Afterwards a member of the hotel cleaning team came up to me and asked: ‘What were your group working on? Because so much laughter was coming from your room.’” The reason, says Kessler, is that people who have been in the deepest depths of despair have the broadest bandwidth when it comes to enjoying life: “When you’ve travelled through the deepest valleys, you surely appreciate the views from the highest hills.” And right now, as we all travel together through the deepest of valleys, that’s a very good message to hear.
America is a land of paperwork, and nowhere is that more obvious than at the end of someone’s life. Advanced care directives have to be carefully disseminated to healthcare providers and strictly followed. Property has to be divided and transferred while meeting relevant estate laws. And of course, there are the logistics of a funeral, cremation or other option that has its own serious complexities, costs and choices.
The worst time to figure out how to die is when you die. The best time to figure it out is precisely when you don’t have to.
For New York City-headquartered Lantern, the goal is to initiate those conversations early and give its users significantly better peace-of-mind, particularly in these dolorous times.
The company offers essentially a “how-to” platform for beginning to prepare for end-of-life, offering checklists and monitoring to ensure that the vast majority of details are figured out in advance. In some cases, the startup will handle the underlying details itself, while in other areas like estate planning, it works with partners such as Trust & Will, which we have profiled a number of times on TechCrunch.
Right now, the company has two plans: a simple free one and a $27 / year plan that tracks your progress on end-of-life planning and allows you to collaborate with family, friends or whoever else needs to be part of your decision-making. The company is in the process of adding other à la carte options for additional fees.
Last month, the company raised $1.4 million in a seed round led by Draper Associates with a few other firms involved. Earlier, the company raised a pre-seed round of $890,000 from the likes of 2048 Ventures, Amplify and others, bringing its total raised to date to $2.3 million. The company is organized as a public-benefit corporation and was founded in September 2018, and first launched a year later.
For founders Liz Eddy and Alyssa Ruderman, Lantern was an opportunity to tackle a looming problem in a compassionate and empathetic way. “I started my first company when I was 15,” Eddy, who is CEO, said. That company focused on dating abuse and domestic violence education for high school and later college students. “I really fell in love with the pace and variety of starting something new, but also in creating conversations around topics that people really don’t want to talk about and making it more palatable and comfortable,“ she said.
Later, she joined local suicide prevention nonprofit Crisis Text Line, which has an SMS-based network of crisis counselors who are trained to calm people and begin their process of recovery. She spent more than six years at the organization.
As for Ruderman, who is COO of Lantern, she most recently spent two years at Global Citizen, a nonprofit organization focused on ending extreme poverty. The two connected and incubated Lantern at startup accelerator Grand Central Tech.
The idea for better end-of-life planning came from personal experience. “I lost my dad when I was in elementary school,” Eddy said, “and saw firsthand how loss and grief impacts a family financially, emotionally, logistically, legally — every aspect.”
Today, many of these processes are offline, and the online products mostly available today are focused on individual elements of end-of-life planning, such as estate planning or selecting and purchasing a casket. Eddy and Ruderman saw an opportunity to provide a more holistic experience with a better product while also initiating these conversations earlier.
That pre-planning part of the product was launched just as the pandemic was getting underway last year, and Eddy said that “we had a sort of a really interesting launch where people were starting to come to terms with their own mortality in a way we hadn’t seen in a very long time.” Typical users so far have been between 25 and 35 years old, and many people start planning when they have a major life event. Eddy says that the death of a family member is an obvious trigger, but so is having a baby or starting a company.
One aspect that Eddy emphasized repeatedly was that having a will and pre-planning for end-of-life are not equivalent. “Even if you don’t have a dollar to your name after you pass away, there are a ton of other things that your loved ones, family members, whoever’s responsible has to consider,” she said.
From a product perspective, there are some nuances compared to your more typical SaaS startup. For one, the company needs to engage you regularly, but not too frequently. Unlike, say, a wedding, which is a single event that then is over, your documents and directives need to be occasionally edited and updated as a user’s life circumstances change.
Beyond that, one of the largest challenges with a product that talks about death is building a connection with a user that doesn’t seem cold, and, well, Silicon Valley-like. “Even as a product that is entirely virtual, making sure that you really feel that human connection throughout” is a high priority, Eddy said. “We use a lot of empathetic language, and our imagery, all of the illustrations are done by illustrators who have lost someone in memory of the person who’s lost.”
Longevity startups may remain a thesis for some VC investors, but handling the end — no matter when — is an activity every person faces. Lantern might shine just a bit more light on what is otherwise a debilitating and scary prospect.
It’s a cold Saturday morning in Melbourne and I am a doctor at work in a palliative care unit. I have just reviewed one of my patients, whose body is beginning to reveal some of the tell-tale signs of dying.
His son stands over him and sadly remarks that “this is a bad time to die”.
With strict visiting restrictions firmly in place across Melbourne, there is a very real chance that his father will die alone and he knows it. This is the new normal.
In a state of disaster, there are a set of rules and visiting restrictions for families and friends of those dying in a hospital setting. These restrictions vary slightly between health services, but the message is the same: as few visitors as possible, for as short a time period as is reasonable.
For months now, hospital staff (myself included) have been chanting the mantra of seemingly arbitrary visiting windows, maximum numbers of visitors per patient and numbers of visitors permitted at the bedside.
In recent times, I have found myself asking questions such as “do all six of your siblings need to visit?” or “could your grandchildren say their goodbyes via FaceTime?”. These conversations are among the hardest I have had as a doctor.
Many find these new rules unacceptable, and with good reason. Few people want to die alone, and even fewer want their loved one to be alone in the final weeks, days and hours of their life.
However, these are not normal times, and a balance must be struck between compassion and safety. Across the world, and now in Victoria, we know that many people with COVID-19 are dying alone; but so are those without COVID-19. Both are tragic realities.
Under normal circumstances, achieving “a good death” is laden with obstacles, let alone in a pandemic. An inherent challenge is that a good death is an individualised experience, reflecting the diversity of the human person.
There are some commonalities across what constitutes a good death, and the company of friends and family features almost universally.
A current patient comes to mind — a woman in her 70s dying of lung cancer — who tells me almost daily that her breathing is bad but the feeling of loneliness even worse. She would like to see her grandchildren, but no children are allowed in the hospital.
Her brother visits, but the allocated two-hour visiting window is not long enough to fill the void created when faced with one’s own mortality. And so on. Her story is not unique.
Dying in a pandemic has brought with it new and more challenging obstacles, ones that make us question what it means to be human. Death is normal, but dying alone is not. So, frankly, when I hear my patients and their relatives say that it is a bad time to die, I can’t help but agree.
Ultimately, how we live and how we die tells us about society as a whole. Today, people die alone to protect society and this at least may be a small source of solace. Their strength and determination to push forward and adapt to this strange new world is a testament to the human spirit.
I hope, though, that those dying in this COVID-19 world know that their sacrifice has not gone unnoticed. Every day, their struggles are seen and felt. Many have had to forgo the so-called good death, and that is the undeniable truth.
Andrea Aycock can only sometimes look at the photos of her hands clasped with her mother’s just before she died in May. But she’ll always cherish the helping hand she got from Anna Adams, an end-of-life doula in San Antonio who preserved that personal moment and so many more for Aycock in her mother’s dying days.
“Anna came and took care of her,” said Aycock, a call center operator in San Antonio. “(She) just mainly comforted me.”
Just as birth doulas help expectant parents bring new life into the world, end-of-life doulas help the dying cope with their next journey. They help the dying and their survivors face death with empowerment and affirmation instead of fear and anxiety.
Also known as death doulas, these trained professionals provide the terminally ill and their families physical and emotional support before, during and after death, the San Antonio Express-News reported. These are nonmedical services that often include relaxation exercises, funeral planning, educating the family on their loved one’s condition and just simple companionship.
Adams sees death awareness becoming more commonplace in the United States in the way that Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations have grown more mainstream and that there are more calls for services of end-of-life doulas.
“Cultures like the Mexican culture that have these beautiful traditions of staying in connection with that (dying) process are so admirable and so beautiful. Doulas want to make sure that is available to all people,” said Shelby Kirillin, an end-of-life doula in Richmond, Va., and program development manager for the International End of Life Doula Association (INELDA) in Jersey City, N.J.
Kirillin sees the rising awareness of death doulas as part of what she calls a “death positive movement,” where more people are getting back to supporting their dying loved ones at home and engaging with their death more up close and personal, much as their ancestors did.
“In the last 100-plus years in our Western culture, that has been taken away from us,” Kirillin said. “How to be with someone who was dying, how to touch them. That was something that we knew how to do.”
INELDA is one of just a handful of death doula organizations in the nation and was launched just five years ago. Co-founder Henry Fersko-Weiss created the first end-of-life doula program in the United States at a New York City hospice in 2003.
Kirillin estimates INELDA has around 40 certified death doulas across the country, yet has trained around 3,000 individuals in death doula care. Many just sign up to learn more about facing death and don’t pursue death doula work, she said, while others branch off to do their own training.
Most death doula services come in three phases.
The first is planning and preparation, which involves getting a terminal patient’s affairs in order and asking some tough questions that call for honest answers. Where does that person want to die? Who do they want present for those final moments? What so they absolutely need to say or do before they’re gone?
Kirillin said that first phase often addresses the dying individual’s regrets and unfinished business, as well as any advance directives, wills, etc. Often referred to as “legacy work,” such planning makes it easier for family to understand and respect the dying person’s wishes.
Fran Morgan is in that early stage with her dying mother Rosalee, who receives hospice care at the private residence of a family friend.
“With Anna in the picture, she will be advocating for all of the things that need to happen,” said Morgan, a retired telecommunications company manager in San Antonio. “It will release me from those responsibilities, and I can just be with my mom and cherish those final moments.”
That second phase is called the vigil, usually the last four or five days of the dying person’s life where end-of-life doulas and family members spend more time at their bedside.
“I call them my angel vigils,” Adams said.
During her doula vigils, Adams, 38, often creates a soothing space for the dying with soft music and dim lighting. Sometimes she’ll add a favorite scent with aromatherapy. Most times, she just gently massages her client’s arms and holds their hands.
And in those final moments as they take their last breaths, Adams comforts them with what they most want to hear, be it Bible verses, soothing music or just someone to say it’s going to be OK.
The final phase of a death doula’s work addresses survivors’ grief. Kirillin said that involves circling back with the family a few weeks after their loved one’s death to check on their emotional well-being.
Kirillin stressed that end-of-life doulas do console families, but are not licensed grief counselors and will refer families to such resources if necessary.
When it came to caring for Aycock’s mother, Adams mostly helped with her bedside care and keeping her visiting nurses on task. Adams also explained to Aycock any of her mother’s diagnoses she didn’t understand.
Then there was that time Adams took those hand photos of Aycock and her mother. Difficult as it is for Aycock to look at those photos, much less share them, she still holds them close.
She holds Adams’s work even closer.
“It is the best help that you can get,” Aycock said. “They provide comfort not only for your loved one that is going through the transition, but for you.”
Morgan expects to experience more of that care from Adams. “I’m looking forward to the relationship that we’re going to have,” said Morgan, who started working with Adams around three weeks ago. “For now my initial experience (and) impression is she certainly has the heart for what she’s doing.”
Adams’s first experience comforting the dying came when she was 16. Fresh from certification as a nursing aid, Adams tended to a best friend’s cousin for several months at her home with bathing and conversation. That care continued when that cousin transferred to hospice care and well up to her death.
“So we just had a bonding moment. I gave her that sacred zone,” Adams said. “That kind of piqued my interest.”
Adams went on to pursue a career in hospice, then for the last four years worked as an EMS manager and dispatcher for a private company. But something pushed her back into working with the dying.
“I told my family, ‘God wants me to do this. God is keeping me in line with this,’ ” Adams said.
At the start of this year, Adams got her end-of-life doula certification. Then over the summer, she partnered with fellow certified doula Sonja Koenig to launch TX Doula Movement, an online training and certification course for death doulas, senior care doulas and doula consultants.
Adams knows of just a handful of death doulas in San Antonio right now, but she expects that number to double later this year when around five of her TX Doula Movement students complete their certification. Adams plans to launch her own doula training service next year.
Adams said the coronavirus has not deterred her from her work, save for having to incorporate more video consultations with families and masks and frequent hand-washings during visits. She has yet to provide end-of-life doula services to someone with COVID-19, but one of the hospice companies she works with takes in COVID-19 patients.
“I don’t have a problem working with COVID patients,” Adams said.
Adams said most hospitals still don’t work with death doulas, but hospice services are slowly warming up to them as adjuncts to their own care.
“It is relatively new, but we’re seeing it more,” said Rachel Hammon, executive director of the Texas Association for Home Care & Hospice in Austin.
Holistic Hospice Care is one of two hospice centers in San Antonio that works with Adams. Administrator Erica Sandoval said Adams has been a welcome bridge between families and clinical teams.
“She can get on (everyone’s) level,” Sandoval said. “And she’s very calm and very patient. And she just wins their trust and they feel very comfortable with her.”
Like Adams, Sandoval, too, sees parallels between death doulas and Día de los Muertos, such as the memory books the doulas make for their clients and the Day of the Dead tribute altars families make for their lost loved ones.
“I definitely think that there’s a good association to that because they are (both about) wanting you to cherish their memories and enjoy the last moments and everything that you can remember of the individual,” Sandoval said.
Before the doctor opened her mouth, you knew this wasn’t going to be good.
And it wasn’t, although you can barely remember what happened a minute after you heard the diagnosis. All you could wrap your head around were monitors and tubes and machines and death, when what you needed was “Dear Life” by Rachel Clarke, and a reminder that it wasn’t time for that yet.
When she was a little girl, Rachel Clarke was in awe of her father, a doctor who loved music and nature and who shared his sense of curiosity with his children. As a teen, Clarke toyed with the idea of following in his footsteps, but she chose a career in television instead. And then one day, after experiencing a couple of close brushes with death, she decided to go back to school to become a doctor, specializing in palliative medicine.
“I learned that dying, up close, is not what you imagine,” she says. “It is the essence of living… that really matters…”
About death, there are two main things: unlike our ancestors, we aren’t used to it; and we can’t know what it’ll be like. These are what Clarke helps her patients and their families deal with, and while she can’t answer the latter question, she promises them that the days and hours before the end are as full of life as possible.
Sometimes, that means meeting fears head-on, and discussing death matter-of-factly. Sometimes, it’s asking questions of a patient because no one else has done so. Caring for someone who’s dying may mean literally opening a window to sunshine or birdsong, holding a hand, letting “a wife curl up in a hospital bed beside her dying husband,” or encouraging a visit from a pet or a beloved grandchild. And sometimes, a doctor just needs to remember that “There is always a spark of beauty or significance…in the life you have left,” even when the person dying is someone the doctor loves.
This year, no doubt, you’ve seen enough death to last several lifetimes, and you’re not sure you can withstand a book about it right now.
But hold on, because “Dear Life” lives up to its title.
Beautiful, thoughtful, and loving, this book is absolutely brimming with life as author Rachel Clarke describes the end-of-life care offered at the hospice where she works and some of the most memorable patients to whom she ministered care.
If that sounds like an anti-life book, well, it’s not. It’s true that people die in this book, and they do it often but Clarke’s accounts of their days prior to death are quiet and serene, with no fear, no pain, and the minimum of loose ends left. Her workplace is not a sterile, clinical home where people go to die; rather, it’s a place where people die but first, happiness sneaks in sometimes.
And for that, curiously, this book on death-and-life may be the balm your COVID-bruised mind needs now. Indeed, calm, truthful, and not too gory, “Dear Life” is good.
Another book to look for is “Grief: The Biography of a Holocaust Photograph” by David Shneer. It’s the story of a photo taken toward the end of World War II, and the emotion inside it. Part meditation, part history, this book is perfect for the historian, too.
Advice to keep a sad event from becoming even more painful
By Consumer Reports
Responsibility for the various actions can be divided among family members and close friends of the deceased.
1. Get a legal pronouncement of death. If no doctor is present, you’ll need to contact someone to do this.
If the person dies at home under hospice care, call the hospice nurse, who can declare the death and help facilitate the transport of the body.
If the person dies at home unexpectedly without hospice care, call 911. Have in hand a do-not-resuscitate document if it exists. Without one, paramedics will generally start emergency procedures and, except where permitted to pronounce death, take the person to an emergency room for a doctor to make the declaration. Keep in mind that do-not-resuscitate laws vary at the state level and if a person does not want to be resuscitated, “calling 911 is not necessary” according to the National Institute on Aging. “If the death is not unexpected, you might call the individual’s physician first,” says Lori Bishop, vice president of palliative and advanced care at the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.
2. Arrange for transportation of the body. If no autopsy is needed, the body can be picked up by a mortuary (by law, a mortuary must provide price info over the phone if you ask for it) or crematorium.
3. Notify the person’s doctor or the county coroner.
4. Notify close family and friends. (Ask some to contact others.)
5. Handle care of dependents and pets.
6. Call the person’s employer, if he or she was working. Request info about benefits and any pay due. Ask whether there was a life-insurance policy through the company.
Within a Few Days After Death
7. Arrange for funeral, memorial service, and burial or cremation. Search the person’s documents to find out whether there was a prepaid burial plan. Ask a friend or family member to go with you to the mortuary. Prepare an obituary.
8. If the person was in the military or belonged to a fraternal or religious group, contact that organization. It may have burial benefits or conduct funeral services.
9. Secure the person’s home. Or ask a friend or relative to keep an eye on it, answer the phone, collect mail, throw food out, water plants, and keep minimal heat on to avoid frozen pipes if it’s winter in a colder climate.
Up to 10 Days After Death
10. Obtain the death certificate (usually from the funeral home). Get multiple copies; you’ll need them for financial institutions, government agencies, and insurers.
11. Take the will to the appropriate county or city office to have it accepted for probate. Check your state’s laws, which may require you to file the will within a set period of time.
12. If necessary, the estate’s executor should open a bank account for the deceased’s estate.
13. Contact the following:
A trust and estate attorney, to learn how to transfer assets and assist with probate issues.
Police, to have them periodically check the deceased’s house if vacant.
An accountant or a tax preparer, to find out whether an estate-tax return or final income-tax return should be filed.
The person’s investment adviser, if applicable, for information on holdings.
Banks, to find accounts and safe deposit box.
Life insurance agent, to get claim forms.
The Social Security Administration (800-772-1213; ssa.gov) and other agencies from which the deceased received benefits, such as Veterans Affairs (800-827-1000; va.gov), to stop payments and ask about applicable survivor benefits. The SSA, like the VA, recommends immediately reporting the person’s death, though in many cases the funeral home will handle this.
Agency providing pension services, to stop monthly checks and get claim forms.
Utility companies, to change or stop service, and Postal Service, to stop or forward mail. Reach out to other companies to stop recurring bills and subscriptions. If home is vacant, contact the insurer to switch to a vacant policy. If home is under a mortgage, contact the lender.
The IRS, credit-reporting agencies, and the DMV to prevent identity theft.
Social media companies, such as Facebook or LinkedIn, to memorialize or remove an account.
Know the Person’s Wishes
For an elderly friend or relative:
Know the location of the will, birth certificate, marriage and divorce certificates, Social Security information, life-insurance policies, financial documents, and keys to safe deposit box or home safe. Ask the person to create an inventory of their digital assets (such as email, social networks, and digital files) and include a plan for these assets in their will.
Ask about the person’s wishes concerning funeral arrangements, organ and brain donation, and burial or cremation.
Have the person complete an advance directive, including a living will, which specifies wanted and unwanted procedures. The person should also appoint a healthcare proxy to make medical decisions if he or she becomes incapacitated. Some who are more seriously ill might also consider a Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment in addition to an advance directive.
Ask the person about end-of-life care, such as palliative and hospice care (which have key differences), and what their insurance will cover. Medicare, which covers most elderly Americans, will cover hospice care. Palliative care is growing in popularity, but “keep in mind that anyone with six months or less to live should have access to hospice,” Bishop says.
Have a do-not-resuscitate order drawn up if the person desires. That tells healthcare professionals not to perform CPR if the person’s heart or breathing stops and restarting would not result in a meaningful life.
Make sure the person gives copies of the documents to his or her doctor and a few family members or friends. Take the documents to the hospital if the person is admitted.